Constable: No secret handshake, but Tesla drivers still seem futuristic

  • With their all-electric engines and automated features, these Teslas at the Tesla Supercharging station in Rolling Meadows seem so futuristic. But Tesla drivers might be getting a bit jaded, as they don't even give each other a shout-out anymore.

    With their all-electric engines and automated features, these Teslas at the Tesla Supercharging station in Rolling Meadows seem so futuristic. But Tesla drivers might be getting a bit jaded, as they don't even give each other a shout-out anymore. Burt Constable | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/23/2018 6:01 AM

At the north end of the Meijer parking lot in Rolling Meadows, in the no man's land between the grocery, a gas station and a bevy of restaurants, sits the future. At first glance, the drivers who visit this Tesla Supercharging station seem like the rest of us with our normal cars.

"I used to have a Prius," several of the Tesla drivers tell me as they acknowledge my 2007 Toyota Prius, which once was on the cusp of cutting-edge technology, but now is pedestrian. They say it with kindness, as if assuring me that we're not so different, them and me. I suppose I'd offer the same platitude if I saw someone driving a 1970 AMC Javelin. "I bought a Javelin in 1975," I'd tell them. "Got the keys handed to me personally by an up-and-coming Indiana auto dealer named Bob Rohrman."

 

In my imagination, Tesla drivers all flash each other a Tesla sign, maybe exchange the secret handshake and then communicate (perhaps telepathically) about all the futuristic secrets known only to Elon Musk and his customers.

"It's not that weird," assures a Tesla driver who rolls down his window and talks to me briefly before explaining that he is on a business telephone call. None of the drivers at the Tesla Supercharging station gives me his full name. Some work their phones as their cars charge for 45 minutes or so. Keith goes to lunch, knowing the car will text him when it's done charging. Joe goes shopping at Meijer. But none of them acknowledge their fellow Tesla drivers. That doesn't seem right. If you drove a Volkswagen Beetle, a Harley-Davidson or even a Prius back in the day, you'd give a shout-out to drivers if you were in the same automotive fraternity.

"If you owned a Tesla, you waved or you flashed your lights," remembers Ryan Nichol, a Carol Stream IT guy who bought his Tesla in 2015 and is active in an online Tesla group where people make connections, share information and post photos of their cars. "Now, it has actually gotten very weird. There are a lot of old-school Tesla drivers who are annoyed by that."

One of the youngest and among the first 50,000 Tesla drivers in the world, Nichol, now 28, says his Model S, which sold for $91,500 but included credits and tax breaks that knocked nearly $10,000 off that price, is "a fantastic car." Since his car can go only 240 miles on a full charge, Nichol remembers his initial fear, called "range anxiety," of running out of power. But that's never been a problem.

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"You tell the car where you want to go, and it will do the math for you," Nichol says, explaining how the car's screen shows the Tesla charging stations along the route. He had no problems during a 1,500-mile round trip to Tennessee, and just passed the 28,000-mile mark on his odometer. For Nichol and other early Tesla owners, those charging stations are free. When he charges his car overnight at his home, an app detects when electrical prices drop at night and automatically charges his car. His Tesla can travel about 50 miles for under $1 most of the time, he says.

"It's not like driving a car. It's like driving a computer," says Joe, a retired Glenview resident, who was irked that he had to fiddle with the touch screen to turn on the windshield wipers. "I wasn't watching the road, but the car stops itself so you won't hit anybody."

Nichol appreciates that automated braking and all the automatic features on his Tesla, which activate his wipers, headlights, even high-beams when he needs them. With his autopilot, he sets his car to follow five car-lengths behind the driver in front of him. "I barely have to pay attention in the morning," he says of his commute.

He's living in the future, and loving it. "Yes," Nichol says. "I still have that Tesla grin."

Still, a secret handshake would be pretty cool.

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